The bad news: The first presidential debate is over.
The good news: The vice presidential debate is a week from tomorrow.
The Fix flooded the zone for tonight’s presidential debate — with live-tweeting, some video back and forth with Ezra Klein and our first thoughts from the event. But, what’s a big political event without a little sifting through of the winners and losers from the debate that was?
Our take is below. Enjoy!
* Mitt Romney: Romney needed a strong performance after roughly a month of unrelenting bad news — and even worse polling in swing states. And, he got it. Romney was extremely well-prepared and came across as someone more than ready to do the job for which he is running. He also, smartly, injected people he had met along the campaign trail to illustrate his policy points and drive home his connection to average people. A star turn for Romney at a time when he badly needed one.
* Bill Clinton: Obama’s answers in the first 30 minutes of the debate were either a) a paraphrasing of the last Democratic president or b) a comparison between himself and the former president. Somewhere, Bubba was smiling. Big time.
* Studies: The first 45 minutes of the debate felt like a conversation between the heads of two opposing think tanks. Obama cited a study, Romney responded with a study of his own. The point? You can find a study that says almost anything.
* Split screen: How the candidates react to one another — and what they do when the other is speaking — is fascinating. (Cue critics who insist we pay too much attention to the theatrics of politics and not enough to the substance.) A little bit more innovation/integration of technology might be welcome too; we continue to believe showing some relevant tweets on screen during the debates might be a worthwhile endeavor.
* Donald Trump: It pains us to write this but The Donald got a mention from both Obama and Romney. And, in the “all publicity is good publicity” world that Trump occupies this is a good thing for him — and a terrible one for the society at large.
* President Obama: The incumbent just seemed something short of engaged in tonight’s proceedings. Like his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Obama’s debate performance seemed purposely restrained — striving for a workmanlike competence but achieving something well short of that. Obama’s facial expressions seemed to alternate between grimly looking down at his podium and smirking when Romney said something with which he disagreed. Snapping at debate moderator Jim Lehrer — more on that later — didn’t help Obama either.
* The format: The attempt to structure the debate around a series of 15-minute segments discussing different aspects of the economy and other domestic policy matters failed almost before it started. Both candidates — what a surprise! — ignored time cues and the specific questions they were asked. And, Lehrer struggled to wrangle them into the allotted time/topic, which left the debate feeling almost entirely format-less. In fact, the candidates were so windy that Lehrer had to essentially jettison the last segment on governing. Why not embrace the fact that these debates are always going to be rollicking policy discussions and not even attempt to put sure-to-be ignored formatting on them?
* Zingers: For all the focus on the one-liners that Romney was allegedly preparing, the debate was almost entirely devoid of the sort of “no he didn’t!” lines that are often the most-remembered moments of these sorts of things. To the extent there were zingers, they came from Romney. His “you pick the losers” and “you’re entitled to your own plane and house” lines were cutting enough to be effective without appearing entirely rehearsed (although, of course, they were.)
* Big Bird: Mitt Romney may love the big yellow bird but he told America he would get rid of funding for PBS if he was president. Whither Elmo?